Report Cites Factors Leading to Seven Firefighters' Injuries in MD House Fire

"The Safety Investigation Team (Team) identified many factors that contributed to the outcome and injuries to the firefighters." So it was stated in the Executive Summary of the 300 plus-page investigation report covering the residential fire in Riverdale Heights, Maryland, on February 24, 2012. The Team forwarded the report to Prince George's County (MD) Fire/EMS Department's (Fire Department) Chief Marc S. Bashoor. The cover letter was signed by Scott K. Hoglander, deputy fire chief, and Sayshan Conver-White, battalion chief, on behalf of the Team. Following is a summary of the incident's events based on the report's Executive Summary.
 
The Incident
The fire occurred at 2111 hours in a structure at 6404 57th Avenue. Flames were extending out of the basement window, pressurized smoke was on the first floor, and high winds were impacting the rear of the structure when Fire Department personnel arrived on the scene.

Shortly after arrival, firefighters forced the front door of the structure. This action added a ventilation opening above the fire that immediately changed the fire's flow path and dynamics. The high winds impacting the rear of the structure (weather conditions) intensified the situation.  

When the firefighters entered through the front door, they placed themselves above the basement fire and in its outflow path. The firefighters were exposed to high velocity and high-temperature gases.

Two firefighters were trapped on the first floor. They did not have the protection of a hoseline when the front door shut behind them and changed the fire's flow path. The hot smoke and gases coming up the interior stairwell that had been escaping out the front door were now contained to the first floor. The smoke layer dropped to the floor and temporarily increased the temperatures from floor to ceiling in the front room where the firefighters were trapped. One firefighter was able to self-rescue through a front window; firefighters removed the other firefighter through the front door.

The fire in the basement burned unchecked until an engine company entered the basement from the rear of the structure and began putting water on the fire. Ultimately, seven firefighters were injured; the two firefighters trapped on the first floor sustained the most significant injuries.

The report states that since there are documented similar incidents in the County, as well as nationally, where the same tactics and operations used at this fire also resulted in firefighter injuries or deaths (as in Washington, DC; California; and Maryland), the recommendations of this report are vitally important.

RECOMMENDATIONS
The Team identified many factors that contributed to the outcome of this incident and injuries to the firefighters. They are listed in Appendix 1 of the report. The Team, however, said it considered the following recommendations as the most critical:

1. An effective size-up--including a 360-degree survey walk around the building--was not completed. Also environmental conditions were not evaluated.

2. No incident action plan was communicated, and firefighters were dangerously positioned above the fire and in its outflow.

3. A firefighter emergency occurred, but no MAYDAY was effectively communicated.

4. Multiple existing policies and procedures were not followed.

5. Training deficiencies were identified at all levels.

6. Command, control, and accountability deficiencies were identified at all levels.

The complete list of recommendations, which are offered to assist the Department in improving the operational safety of its personnel and fireground operations, command, control of fire incidents, and training. These recommendations have been classified as immediate (red--life safety and firefighter survival), short term (yellow--relatively easy to implement), and long term (green--may require significant planning including fiscal impacts). The recommendations (with codes) are contained in Appendix 1 of the report.

The Fire Marshal's Office determined that this fire was incendiary in nature. At the time of this writing, this case remains as an open active criminal investigation. A reward is being offered to the individual(s) who provide information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist(s).

The complete investigation report is available at http://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/government/publicsafety/fire-ems/PDFs/SIT-57thAveReport.pdf.

This incident highlights the extreme dangers involved in wind-driven fires and the need for communicating and planning ventilation operations in concert with command and the interior forces. For more information on wind-driven fires, see "Analysis of a Wind-Driven Fire in a Single-Story House"l.

Additional articles on wind-driven fires can be found HERE .

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